Storytelling 102

So, how do you move from being a storyteller to a Storyteller?

I am assuming that you know what storytelling is. It is spoken word story that can be told in a variety of styles. My own style is dramatic. There is also trance and physical and a myriad versions in between. There is not exactly a wrong way to tell a story and yet there is. We’ll talk of that another time.

Stories have been handed down through generations and are at the centre of cultures. We tell stories every day, whether anecdotes of family happenings, incidents at work, online news or gossip. The important verb here is ‘tell’. We tell the stories. This is the cornerstone of storytelling and the important thing to remember. We tell stories. Yes, there is spoken word poetry, readers’ theatre and read stories. What Storytellers do is tell stories. How do you remember those stories? We will discuss that later.

I first came across Storytelling at Wonderwings Fairy Shop in 1992 when I dragged a number of friends along to an adult Storytelling. The party room was set up as a forest with a treed mural on the wall and mushroom cushions on the floor. We were served fairy bread and champagne. There was much laughter as we settled in, with some discomfort, unsure of what was to come. I was looking forward to whatever it might be. The Storyteller was Matteo, still telling today, and despite one friend’s determined efforts to distract and actively critique him, he told traditional folk tales. I was fascinated. I loved being told stories. When we pottered about the magical shop afterwards, my friends muttered to me, “You could do that!”

What? Tell stories, for a living? Surely not. I did enquire of Annie, the shop proprietor, who  told me of the Storytelling Guild (now Storytelling Australia Victoria). The idea persisted and I began attending the Storytelling Cafe nights. I was fascinated by the different styles of Telling and the plethora of stories told. It came to crunch point for me. It was time to tell a tale.

The first story I told was the Magic Stones. Having no idea how people went about learning stories, I did it my way. I read many many stories until one struck me as resonant. Once I had the bones of it, I began telling it to myself. Hours of practice saw me ready and finally I stood to tell a tale at the Storytelling Cafe. I was terrified. I told. I survived. I was elated.

Feedback later was that although my style was apparently far more dramatic than most, my story had been enjoyed. Whew. Did I consider myself a Storyteller now? No, I did not.

I have noticed that when people embark on a new endeavour, they are reluctant to name themselves Artist or Writer or Storyteller. Within a year of my first told tale, I produced a solo show (because why tip toe in when you can jump with both feet?). It went well. Over the next ten years, I told in early childhood centres, primary schools, libraries, with adults, ran workshops, facilitated groups and travelled across Victoria with my beautiful storytelling trunk.

Somewhere in that time, I stepped from storyteller to Storyteller. Once a Storyteller, always a Storyteller.

Now, how do you remember stories? We’ll talk about that next time.

 

Straight-talk parenting

There’s benefit to being a straight talker. People know you mean what you say and say what you mean. Even Youngest Daughter, whose behaviour has been off the charts for nearly three years.

Saturday she went to stay with a friend. I spoke to the mother to make sure it was okay. Then there was some story about the power bill not being paid and no longer able to stay there. Then, gosh, all the phones in the town were flat so she couldn’t call me to come and pick them up, so they slept on the street. Oh yes, you read that right. I was also supposed to believe that story.

I was so glad to have them safe at home, that I focussed on that. Now that some semblance of sanity has returned to YD, I have let her know how nonsensical her story was. She at least had the grace to appear embarrassed and guilty. Good grief. Sleeping on the street! Splutter!

Do you know, if you met me, you would not expect me to have a ‘wayward’ daughter. As a heroin baby, who went into foster care at 5 months for ‘failure to thrive’, then to carer after carer, until coming to me at 3 1/2, she was so angry, so mad at the world, and so full of grief that it was bare survival for both of us for the first nine months. She had thought the previous carers were her family and was absolutely broken that they had given her away. She was convinced for a long time that I must have seen a photo of her and demanded to have her. Her birth mother made it worse, so much worse.

Poor sad baby. What she does know, except when she is crazy and convinced I am exaggerating (her own favourite pass time), is that I am truthful and while she might wish that I would be less honest at times, she knows that she can trust what I say. That’s something isn’t it?

Of course, quite often this means that she tells me more than I want to know. I often feel like putting fingers in my ears and singing lalala loudly. At least she tells me. Right?

So I told her straight up that she was not going to be able to complete Year 8. Year 8, dear God. I gave her the options the meeting at school came up with and she actually chose the one best for her. Oh my goodness, thank you God for great and small mercies. We still have to apply for all the programs and cross our fingers and our toes (our eyes and our noses) that she gets in. She is happy to try to get her life back on track and get some more education (she’s at grade 5 level).

Through all the traumas and events that have happened in my life, YD is the cause of so much angst and concern, so much pain, so many tears, so much upset. I know that how she is a reflection of how she feels about herself. Whenever she is in trouble or upset, she runs straight to me. That’s got to count for something, doesn’t it?

It is so sad that she feels so bad about herself. I understand how all that has come about, all the abandonment, manipulations and abuse that has occurred to trigger that in her. What I don’t have is any way to fix it.

There is no fixing. I have to have faith. Faith in her resilience. Faith in how much I love her. Faith in her own light within.

I wish for her only happiness. To live a life she loves and is proud of.

Keep the faith.

Parenting Teens and Education…Sigh

How do I tell my daughter that she needs to move schools, again?

When starting Year 7 she dropped as a very tiny fish into a very big pond and was simply overwhelmed. Her response was anger. When confronted or felt she was being made wrong, she attacked. She has always been good with her words, they are useful lashes. Now she adds swearing and name calling to her verbal violence.

Otherwise, she simply walks out of class or refuses to attend. Usually she takes someone with her. She is one of those students you’d rather yours didn’t associate with. Yet and yet, she is the most gorgeous girl, who can just shine when her world is right.
Her world is not often right and I feel so sad for her. With foster care, abusive birth mother, challenges of permanent care, she has a well-developed lack of self-esteem. She hears everyone as making her wrong, or hating her or deliberately trying to sabotage her. It has taken extreme effort to get her to agree to go to counselling.

How do I tell my girl, who perceives rejection everywhere, that people actually do have her best interests at heart? They are actually thinking of her and wanting the best for her.

I don’t think I can ever convince her of that, so where to start? If I say that she is disrupting classes, disrespecting teachers and leading other students astray, that will confirm her every belief. I cannot say that. If I say that she is in year 8 with the education level of a grade 5, she will shrug and say she doesn’t care.

I don’t care what other people think. I don’t care that they point the finger at me and say how she turned out must be my fault. There is no fault here. There is a child who is suffering. My concern is for her happiness, that she is living a life she loves and is proud of. My concern is that she learns to love herself. That seems to be a tall order at the moment. Her conflict with everyone is evidence of the conflict within herself.

What is wonderful about her is how much she cares for her friends. She wants to bring home every person who is in trouble. What is wonderful about her is how in the moment she can be, enjoying life as it is happening. What is wonderful about her is just how tough and resilient she is considering all she has been through. What is wonderful about her is how compassionate she can be for others.

Perhaps that is somehow the key. You can only be of assistance to others if you take care of yourself and have something to offer. This is something wonderful about her. How could she ongoingly have something to offer those that need her support? What would she need to have to support others? How would she get that? They are big questions and I do not know how else to have her consider them.

If she does not see a future for herself and a need to provide for that future, how can I convince her? What if she tells me all the bad stuff and I tell her all the good stuff about this year? Where will that take us? How will that get us to the conversation about moving schools again? Obviously this requires much more thought, heartache and creativity. I do not have an easy solution.
Do you?
4 Nov 2015

Poor little lost girl: Parenting a teen

There are times when the mountains in life seem insurmountable, don’t they? Problems seem to pile up and up and it just seems that you will never get to the top of the pile and down the other side. I am watching my teenage daughter go though this at the moment. Feeling helpless as a parent is probably the absolutely worst feeling. Watching your child suffer and not be able to fix anything for them.

My Youngest Daughter is 13 and a half. An awful age. You’re not a child any longer and far from an adult. You are desperate to do what you see older teens doing but your damn parent won’t let you. You are beyond desperate to just get out and “live your life” and beyond frustrated that you cannot. Coupled to that is early childhood trauma for my baby. She is my permanent care child, having been removed from a drug-addicted mother at three months and alcoholic grandmother at 5 months.

A baby of a drug-addicted pregnancy she was born with rage she struggles to control. Anger is her main fuel and she can easily flash to rage. This spirals in endless circling between extreme highs and lows, self-hatred and loathing, cutting and abusive behaviour. She was passed from carer to carer until she came to me when she was three and a half.

For the last ten years I have cheered her on and despaired at her destructiveness. Once when I made her clean her room when she was seven, she was so enraged that she stole all my treasured rings from my jewellery box and threw them into the dog yard, then denied knowing what happened to them. I was so heartbroken that someone we knew had come into our house and taken my rings that I sobbed. She watched and said nothing. I finally twigged that it was likely to be her. I insisted and she went and ‘found’ a ring. I walked down to her room and by chance noticed a flash of gold in the mud and straw out her bedroom window. I recovered them all. We went to the police station for the Sergeant to speak with her about the seriousness of it all. She never admitted taking them.

This little baby was never cherished until she came to me. She never had anyone to croon her preciousness to her until I came along. We played the Baby Game, where she got to be the baby, for many months during her fourth year. She still opens her big brown eyes wide when we talk about it. It helped but mostly too late. Those bonds and attachments have to form before the age of three for children to be able to function fully and make future attachments. She has Disorganised Attachment Disorder, which can look like Oppositional Defiance Disorder, a little like Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD and ADD. It’s none of those. It’s just that no-one loved this baby as she should have been loved, at the right time to wire her brain successfully. Consequently she has extreme difficulty in managing her friendships, has rages and impulse control issues and faced with all of that it is no wonder she had difficulty learning.

What to do? There are times I am truly stumped. There was the day she did not go to school because an older girl threatened to “bash” her and she was too scared. I had people looking for her everywhere. Thank goodness we live in a small town and she is recognisable and people care. She was home when I finally got home. I couldn’t hug her hard enough, I had been that worried. She’s going to school tomorrow though so I guess she is not scared anymore. I really don’t know what happened.

Teen years are cruel enough, when every emotion is so intense. Add trauma and disconnection to that, in addition to being the only visibly Aboriginal child at her school, you start to get the picture of how tough things can be. We had to get an intervention order on her birth mother last year as she lost the plot and got really scary. Poor baby. How is a girl, still really a child, to assimilate all of that? The answer is, she cannot.

One of her teachers wrote to me, to say she had to be removed from class as she defied him. He shamed her, in front of the whole class. For a girl like her, she had no alternative but to defy him. My response to him was to say that his reaction to her was not in her best interest. Oh, I understand that teachers are over-worked, I understand that the school is doing it’s best with the resources and knowledge they have. I understand all that. They don’t understand my child. She is intrinsically Aboriginal. She feels keenly being singled out and shamed in front of a class. Any child would. My child, who appears to be the only obviously Aboriginal child at the school, feels it intensely. I know shaming her was not his intention and it is what happened. She left. Then he wrote to me and told on her. This is just one of many times this has happened.

What to do then, what to do? We hang on. There are times that I feel that I am hanging on by my fingernails. I am not someone who likes to argue or do battle. She is. She feels that all the world is against her and tries to pick fights constantly. She is so determined to be right all the time that she hears people making her wrong, whether they are or not.

The worst thing? I can’t fix it for her. I can only remind her that she is likeable, she is loveable. She can choose to like herself and practise it. That is what makes the difference. Not what you look like, not what you have, not how long your hair is or how perfect your make up. Not who you are friends with, or who you are not friends with. None of that makes any difference. Choosing to like yourself and practising that, is what makes the difference. If we like ourselves and we practise treating ourselves better, we stand half a chance of being happy.

She is my fourth teen. The most challenging. It’s like being on a scary ride and wanting to get off and knowing that if I jump, the pain will be worse.

The hardest thing in the world is seeing your child unhappy and knowing that they make themselves that way and not being able to fix it. The hardest thing in the world is to see your child hurting and in pain. The only thing to do is to hang on. Keep loving her. Keep seeing her adorableness in the face of her fury. Keep her as safe as I possibly can. Stand firm and be her rock. This is all I can do.

Perspective, Perception and Expectations: An Introspective

I am thinking about the crossover between perspective, perception and expectations. How what we see is what we get. I am outside with my daughter’s 6 month old kitten and hoping that he stays in the yard. He’s had his op, his microchip, no collar (my poodle uses cat collars as handles for dragging) and I am just a little concerned he might disappear before I can catch him.

My perspective is this is an adventure that could go very wrong. My expectation is that he will want to explore too far and my perception is that I am being over anxious, especially as he comes every time I call. Oops, first stalking of a bird. He is getting an enclosure and will only ever be out supervised. See? Perception: cats are killers. Expectation: he will catch a bird if he can. Perspective: I can be a responsible cat carer and environmentalist. Does my perspective alter my perceptions and expectations? No. My perspective demonstrates my commitment to both, hence cat enclosure and supervised outdoor time. Fences, dogs next door, my own Fluffy Floozy dogs giving him a chase, keep my perspective bounded. I hope. As long as he doesn’t go under the house.

I’ll try for a clearer example. Years ago I married. A lovely young woman. I was a young woman too and I was absolutely besotted. She seemed like such fun, full of life and adventure. When we wanted to have a ceremony, because she wanted the surety of commitment, i assented and asked friends to join us. They were horrified. None of them wanted to participate. It wasn’t the wedding aspect, it wasn’t the commitment, it was her. No-one said to me, don’t do it, she’s nuts. No-one tried hard to dissuade me at all. A few did question closely why I wanted to do it. I was doing it for her. I was absolutely broken-hearted that no-one wanted to join in. Maybe some did, but my crushed expectations altered my perception of my friends and my perspective of friendship. Within a year, I had a whole new barrel load of friends and I was married.

Within 6 years I could see that things were not working. I understood that she had lied to me about numerous things to make her appear more agreeable. I came to understand that my perception of her was clouded by my perspective of relationships and my expectation of how we would travel along together. I realised that how she operated was vastly different to myself and the compatibility I had perceived was a fabrication. By whom? Both of us. Her through lying and mine through my own expectations. It took me a further 7 years to extricate myself, they were bad years and not what I wanted. I was clear from the outset that I wanted children and to grow a life together, which included a business. She said yes yes yes, until it became clear that she didn’t mean a word of it. I said we foster together or I foster alone. I’ve been on my own with the kids for 12 years now.

The young woman inside of me who fell in love with the young woman inside of her, still loves. Love is a creative energy, you can never run out. However the grown woman who looks at my ex and sees the needy person she is, so greedily grasping for people’s time, energy and refrigerators, is not someone I would allow in my life now. Now my perspective has changed. I understand that we can love someone and not allow that person in our lives because how they are choosing to live and the person they are choosing to be. My perception of myself as a individual of worth who deserves honest and respectful relationships has changed. My perspective of the landscape of my life has shifted. I never wanted to be a single parent but I would rather be on my own than shackled to a relationship where I end up unrecognisable to myself.

More recently this has occurred with my ex foster son. For ten years I raised and loved that boy, taught him (he has autism and functioned poorly when he came to live with me), cared for him and was proud of him. He showed me a young man who was caring, could love, form relationships, be insightful and would lend a hand. I’m still so proud of the steps he dug into the hill for me, closer together so I could step down them easily. He could be so very kind. Eighteen months ago he started changing but would not tell me what was wrong. There was always a nasty streak but doesn’t everyone have that? I chose to see him as my lovely boy so was much troubled by his nastiness. His desperation for a girlfriend culminated in meeting a woman online, 9 years his senior, who came from interstate and took him away. I was devastated but gave them a farewell dinner and planned to keep in touch. Over the year he morphed into someone I didn’t recognise. Someone who chose to return to calling me by my name but never had the courage to discuss it with me, who called one of his ex foster sisters an “attention seeking whore” and his youngest ex foster sister a “black slut”. This is the tip of the iceberg. I have moved through profound shock and grief over the past year as this unrecognisable person stomped in his hob nailed boots all over our hearts.

My perspective was that he was my boy. My perception of him was not that he was perfect but that he could be kind, loving, caring and thoughtful. My expectation was that he would continue to be a member of our family. I love him. He can never take away the ten years he was my boy. However I will not have the person he has chosen to be anywhere near my life. The abuse was such that I had to get my solicitor to write to them to tell them to leave us alone.

What’s interesting here is how thwarted expectations cause the most pain and it is our perspective of relationships and our perceptions of individuals that have to shift. Doesn’t mean we don’t love them but sometimes it does mean that we have to set them free.

The kitty? Yep. He’s gone under the house to explore where I cannot get him. I’m off to get a can of tuna. I perceive that he’s a cat and I know he loves tuna. I hope my expectations, of enticing him with it, are right this time.

P.S. He came out just after I finished writing. Oh, the power of food.

Doggone Woman: An Introspective

There are events that happened in my life that I do not discuss. I have always been annoyed that things that happened long ago have current impact. My therapist (ooh, I feel so American. I’m not!) says those were foundation events and have currency throughout our lives, interweaving experiences, ricocheting, echoing patterns. Dammit.

In the interest of shedding some of this nonsense, I will endeavour to put down here a synopsis of what has occurred. Hmm, know that I plan for it to be brief. I’ll do my best. We create stories about events that occurred and only see them through one perspective. I do not mean that they need another perspective. Oh no. I mean events need to be seen as occurrences that occurred. Then we added meaning and story. So many of the stories we tell, over and over again, hurt us. Well, I’m a little sick of it, can you tell? Here goes.

Adopted at 2 months, by the time I was 3 my mother had found pedophiles for everyone and I was sexually abused from 3 until 7. At that age, I decided that no-one was going to look out for me so I had better do it for myself and refused to go to the house where the old man that hurt me lived.

My father decided, that at the ripe old age of five, I deserved whipping. I cannot to this day imagine what a five year old could possibly do to deserve being whipped. My mother had hard finger nails that could pinch and twist and bruise. She could also hit hard enough to leave a welt of her hand. I cannot imagine how hard you have to hit a small leg for that to happen.

Needless to say there was other abuse and I grew unable to understand motivation, social mores or keep myself safe. This led to awkward and horrifying scenarios as a teen. By the time I was 15 I wanted to be dead. Fortunately I did not have any idea how to effect that, so I went on. Before I left home, I was date raped. It was the only time I was ever pregnant. I had no idea what to do. I lost the baby and being singularly clueless, told no-one and chose this time to venture out into the world.

Life got hairier. It was difficult to manage and read cues. My mother suffered from extreme social phobia plus the trauma of my early years, navigating the world was an almost impossible task. After a second rape (remember I had no idea how to keep myself safe), I stopped sleeping and fell into a pit of terror. The “abyss” as I came to know it, had been familiar to me since I was six but this time took me two years to climb out.

Post traumatic stress disorder is a mean mean beast. I met my birth families at the time I was in the midst of the worst of the symptoms. (Shaking my head here just thinking about it.) It took many years to learn to manage. Today I suffer from severe anxiety and chronic (incident triggered) severe depression. I recognise the symptoms though and know how to deal with things very well.

I got married at 27, and spent the next 13 years as the ‘slow boiling frog’ as my relationship became increasingly abusive. It took me seven years to extricate myself from when I first realised it was not good for me. By the time I did, I could not stand the person I had become.

While this was going on, endometriosis took over my life and I was suffering two full cycles every month. Pain, I divided into crawl on the floor, stagger about and keep going no matter what. When I finally had a radical hysterectomy, I was so ill I could no longer understand conversation or function normally. A friend would come and speak with me and saved my sanity, helping me to recognise words and interact again. My father died. After the surgery, the wound got infected and tore open. It was akin to being raped again. I ended up back in hospital and the wound took 3 months to close. (see the tangled threads?)

That was over 10 years ago. Still not far enough away. Finally I got my life in order, sold my house, moved myself and the children, and began to heal.

I like me. I love me. I am proud that I have never succumbed to making excuses or allow my life to devolve into despondency (no matter how bad I feel at times). I am suitably impressed with myself. I am also happy living alone (well, youngest daughter is still here but you know what I mean).

Until my therapist (snigger!) gently suggested that I had felt trapped in every major relationship and struggled to escape. Dammit. She’s right, that is exactly how I felt. Will I never be shed of this? I can, I can, I know I can. I am determined. I am stubborn and obstinately determined to have my life be exactly the way I want it. My birth mother once referred to my “doggedness” as a saving blessing. When I finished laughing I asked her where she thought I got it from?

In a life full of challenge, I am immensely grateful for my birth mother and the friends who have waited and stood with me. I am grateful for the children I had the privilege of raising. I am grateful for my animals, home, town and many many things. Mostly I am grateful to be the stubborn, determined, obstinate and doggone woman that I am.

Child Protection: Who are we protecting? – Community Conversation

I have been a foster carer for over fourteen years. In that time I have given much thought to the system we have for protecting our children.

I began fostering because I desperately wanted to care for children and could not have my own. Apparently I said to my ex, we foster together or I foster alone. I’ve been on my own with the kids now for ten years. Says it all really.

I wanted to be of help to families who were unable to stay together. I realised it would be difficult and as I had been a youth worker and housing worker, I had some idea of how difficult. What I didn’t know people have written books about.

Fostering has been the most challenging and affirming thing I have done in my life. I am done now. I simply cannot continue in a system where children are treated as possessions and parents have to measure up to an invisible standard. All parents know about the invisible standards, those we don’t know we’ve crossed until we’ve crossed them. All parents feel at some time that they don’t make the grade, they don’t know what to do and they are not going to make it. As a carer, add to that dealing with a government department, a community-based foster agency, the natural birth parents, access and a child traumatised by removal (at least) and you need to be a self-assured, self-confident, self-certain human being.

Human beings just aren’t like that. There are accusations and investigations, there are accreditations and ongoing training. There is dealing day in and out with a child who is most likely exhibiting traumatised behaviour. There is never being considered a professional in the care of that child. There is financial reimbursement that somehow never makes up the cost of having said child not to mention the toll physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually.

I did say that it was also the most affirming thing I have done too, didn’t I? It has been. I can raise children. I raise strong happy children. When the conditions are right, I can foster natural parents’ relationships with those children and include them in my family. I have done really well in getting fostered children through school, which is not common, and have them complete successfully. I have gone onto have adult relationships with those children. I have done well.

It just about broke me, in every way. The thing I question here though is why do we do it? I have worked in family support and community development most of my working life. I have seen this from more than one side. I have seen parents, whose children have been removed for whatever infraction, be allocated family support and with that support meet all the obligations and hoops the government demands and get their children back! Most parents however do not receive family support to assist them through the terrible process of proving they are adequate parents (and let’s face it most of us are just adequate) and become demoralised and defeated. They give up. I don’t blame them. There are a myriad complexities that got them into the situation in the first place. There is double that to get them out.

I agree that if a child is in danger (like Youngest Daughter who was failing to thrive with her addict mother) they need to be removed to a place of safety. However why is the natural parent not allocated a worker to assist them? How does someone already struggling, navigate the tangled web of the courts? Would our children be better off staying with their family with appropriate support to ensure their health and wellbeing? Would this help develop resilient children?

I was not removed from my adoptive family. They were violent and found pedophiles for everyone. I did tell someone when I was seven and got branded a liar. It was a nightmare growing up with them but you know what? I survived it. I more than survived it. Despite it all I am resilient and determined to have my life be as I choose. Yes, it would have been wonderful to have a support worker calling my parents to account and working alongside them to do better. How much better could life have been? No-one came and I had to rescue myself. And I did.

The investment required to support parents and travel with them on their journey to be a family again is worthwhile making. No matter how bad it was at home, most children would rather be there. So, why don’t we do that? Why don’t we become the villages our children need?

Christmas Survival: How to enjoy your Christmas when it’s unrecognisable.

Each year our Christmas has been a little different. I don’t have a lot of family close and don’t cope particularly well with the large Christmas gatherings that some families have. My little family has consisted over the years of the children I have fostered and their birth parents and whatever friends or family want to join in. I invite people a lot.

Not everyone copes well with Christmas as we know. For me it has to do with my expectations of Christmas as a family day. My adoptive parents did their best to make it wonderful, with Santa Sacks on the end of the bed (I never questioned why Santa wrapped everything in newspaper or even noticed that he had our local paper) for unwrapping at an ungodly hour, re-wrapping and unwrapping again on the Parents’ bed at a timely hour. This was probably the very best part of Christmas, when they were barely awake and before the squabbling started.

Then there would be breakfast, rushing off to Church where we were always late and consequently had to sit in the front row. This gave me an uninterrupted view of the congregation which was educational in itself. Listening to the interminable sermon before talking with all the kids about what was in the sack. I don’t remember anyone not having a sack or admitting it if they did not. Returning home for Christmas lunch and tree gifts was fraught. The order of handing out always resulted in a battle. I don’t remember it every going smoothly. As a child I had little understanding of the stress my mother was under to get everything ready. I’d much rather disappear and read a book.

My parents also asked lots of people for Christmas. At times it was confusing. I have a range of images of different people in my memory, most of whom were acquaintances, not family. It made for a merry and loud Christmas lunch.
Over the years Christmas has evolved. Children meant the enjoyment of Santa sacks and watching their amazement. In my home, it was a family event to watch the unwrapping and celebrate each surprise uncovered. Youngest Daughter describes it as exciting and awesome, full of joy, food, full tummies, happiness, cheerful, that’s what it was like. First Santa sacks would be opened, then we would have breakfast which the kids made, then when everyone got here we did the presents.

“Everyone” refers to their birth parents who were always included in our celebratory days. One year, when Kevin Rudd gave the bonus $900, there was an ridiculous landslide of gifts. It was overwhelming. The best thing about that day was that both birth mothers were well and happy and really contributed to the day. It was the best we had. Sadly, once has since died from her addictions and the other has succumbed to extremely poor mental health. My ex foster son has left home and entered a twilight zone of the “world done me wrong” song and has cut himself off. My Eldest Daughter is busy with her husband’s families on Christmas day so I have them and my grandson on Boxing Day. That works out well.

Funniest memory for me was my ex foster son finding moustaches in his Santa sack and delightedly trying them all on. I figured it would save me from drawing them daily. Another is Youngest Daughter finding a bright yellow hand bag from Nan Nan (my adoptive mother) and hugging it to her in ecstatic delight, and Eldest Daughter’s shy pleasure at still getting a Santa stocking when she had thought she was too old for it. Most of my glad memories are about their pleasure and playing.

This year my Mum (birth mother) joined us and my brother (adopted) came later. We were the smallest group I have ever had. Because of the changes, Youngest Daughter did not want to put up the Christmas tree. The small fibre optic tree was still pretty. I found it a peaceful day, full of mixed emotions and sad at times but peaceful.

With that, I am content.

Liking, Loving and Looking After Yourself – A Musing

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The weeks go by and the weeks go by. You know the year is flying by when your youngest says, that went quickly. Nothing makes time seem more fleeting than your youngest child getting older.

We measure our lives by achievements in the physical and only when we have had a physical loss do we become aware of other forms of achievements. I feel one of my greatest achievements has been learning to like, love and look after myself. Not that long ago I asked my son how would he know when he had high self esteem. His answer? Well, I’ll have a car and a bike and a house and a boat… (We live in the bush). I answered that they were things and things can be easily lost. Figuring that ‘self esteem’ may be the wrong question, I asked, how do you love yourself?

This turned into a considerable family discussion. How do you like yourself? How do you love yourself? How do you look after yourself? The general consensus by those under 18 was how much good stuff could you buy. I was momentarily speechless. These were the children who had grown up in my care, the children who had decided with me that family outings were preferable to buying new furniture. I am the mother who forewent all manner of things to take my children on a secret holiday, the topic of many trips down memory lane. I am the mean mother who refused to buy electronic games for a son whose obsession with them caused him to discuss characters as though they were friends. (I was the mother who was horribly confused for quite some time.) I am the mother who still sends her children to play outside. I am the mother who kindly says “only boring people get bored.”

How then did these children of mine learn that liking or loving yourself depended on what you could buy yourself? These are the same children, mind you, who would rather go without than put in extra effort to earn money. (I am also the mother who enjoyed ‘going on strike’ on the odd occasion their laxness got too much.) I asked them how they would buy themselves these things if they didn’t want to work? That appeared to be unanswerable. “We’ll get jobs” from them was met by rapture from me. I am the mother, after all, who has worked most of their lives.

Where did my children pick these ideas up and how come they had more sway than what I taught them? Only now in my 26 year old Daughter am I seeing a foregoing of brands and must-haves for a simpler life. Only now am I seeing a young woman determined to like, love and look after herself. She acknowledges the lessons she learnt from me and is closer to appreciating a simpler life than she has ever been. I hold out hope for the others. I have to say that moving through the stages of parenthood are very challenging.

When they are tiny, you are wonderful and to be obeyed because if Mum’s happy, everyone’s happy. Then they get a little attitude and you have to shift from loved and adored parent to the negotiator. You just get a handle on that and you get the I don’t care, nothing matters. Here you have a choice. You can either be firm and emphatic or gentle and encouraging. I switched between them to keep everyone on their toes. I am, after all, the mother who ran out of shops while my children were engaged, cackling like a chicken, leaving them behind. At least it made them keep an eye on me and caused me much amusement.

I discovered that if I made things work for me, then they had choices within boundaries. My boundaries but then I’m not superwoman. My grandson throws wobblies, banging his little head on the ground. I regard him calmly while people around cast me looks and say “ you can do that or Grandma can carry you or you could walk and we will…” (add in enticement). He will get up and walk with me. Unfortunately teens are heavier.

By the time you are used to being a teen parent, they are out off into the world and don’t need you for awhile (until something goes wrong). That’s all fine. Challenging, heart-rending at times but fine. What I do hope is that I have led by example and they know how to like, love and look after themselves without being self-indulgent and self-obsessed (Youngest Daughter fills my ipad with selfies. I have hundreds of them. Heh heh heh. I find uses.). So, what did I do when I discovered that buying stuff was their answer to liking, loving and looking after themselves?

We kept talking. I kept asking. I knocked all the ‘stuff’ off as things that come and go. Exhibit A, barbie dolls. Youngest Daughter had dozens of the damn creepy things and those ones whose feet came off. Ugh. I’d find bits all over the house with either child or dog or both teeth marks in them. She’d take off their clothes, then their arms, then their legs and then their heads. After all, their feet came off. Then she’d want me to put them back together. Couldn’t do it. Don’t know how they went together in the first place but damned if I could get those creepy things back in shape. The dog loved them. Those dolls are like self esteem, once taken apart, it never fits back together in the same way. You have to start again and build anew.

By the time our discussion had pared all their ideas down to just having yourself and how do you like, love and look after yourself, they really did not seem to know. I asked them if I liked myself and they said yes. I asked them did I love me and they said yes. I asked them did I look after myself and they said yes, albeit a little uncertainly. Then I asked them how was it that I liked, loved and looked after myself? I am a large woman of happy features. I have never been beautiful. Conundrum.

Then I told them the secret. I decided. Then I practiced. I get better at it as time goes by.

That is a much better way to measure my life.
(c) CLHHarper 17/10/2014

Twisty Thinking: an Introspective

Twisty Thinking: an Introspective

What is it about other people’s stories? Why, in their stories, do I hear the “somebody done me wrong” song? Why do I feature, unwittingly, in those songs?

It seems to me that there are some people in the world who think I spend more time thinking about them than I do. Should I be? I work and think a lot about my work. I have one child left at home and spend brain time on her. Mostly I think about practical things and activist activities.

I think about tiny homes, gardening, veggies, animals, ethical responsibilities, coffee, living lightly, getting older, politics, art, writing, therapy, Quakerism, Simplicity, retiring, my mother, my niblings, my grandson (actually I think about him a lot), coffee, books, volunteering, painting, teaching, craft, reading, what I am reading, books, science, space, water, coffee, my comfy chair, cleaning (not much, I admit), friends, stories I have heard, stories I have told, new stories, performances, the people I love, the people I have cared for and do care for, writing stories, poetry, listening to poetry, watching poetry, my dogs, my cats, (wishing I had rabbits), butterflies, coffee, teapots, coffee, the house, making a cinema, birds, books, Community (with a capital ‘C’) and coffee.

The theme here is that I don’t think about other people as much as they seem to think I do and I think about coffee a lot. If someone arrives where I am (work, dog park, home) and isn’t chatty or is grumpy, I never assume that is about me. When I was young I thought everything was about me. Eventually I learned that other’s behaviour was determined by their own lives. I am no longer ego-centric enough for it even to cross my mind that another’s behaviour could have anything to do with me. This is handy if I don’t hear from someone for awhile, I assume they are as busy in their life as I am in mine.

Where I come unstuck is when I am accused of thinking things that never crossed my mind. What? Yes indeed. Thoughts and feelings that never occur to me become accusations. How does that work? It’s difficult to defend yourself against irrational accusations. I don’t even try. What’s really hard is when a smidgen of fact gets twisted up in someone else’s reality which then becomes an accusation of my wrong doing. Now, this does not happen much but when it does happen, it comes from more than one. I have a theory.

It’s the full moon this week and the lun-ies are out. Yes, I am resorting to tried and true loony reasoning. There is no other possible explanation when people I believe actually do love me, or at least care for me, treat me as though I have deliberately done something to upset them. Well, for the record, I am sorry they’re upset but the thing is, I really haven’t thought about them that much.

Oh wait, maybe that’s it.

(c) CLHHarper May 2014